Ten Massive Floods That Didn’t Involve Water

Water floods. It’s what water does! It wants to get to the lowest point, which is something you hopefully learned in high school (and still remember to this day). And when there’s a lot of it, and whatever is holding it back breaks and releases the surge, water brings with it a ton of potentially destructive energy. That’s why floods are so catastrophic, sadly. They rush into towns or through valleys and leave nothing but death, drowning, and destruction in their wake.

But water isn’t the only thing that floods. Technically, any liquid can cause a flood—if you have enough of it. And that’s exactly what we’re looking at in this list. Today, we’ll tell the strange and nearly unbelievable stories of ten floods that weren’t water. From chocolate to molasses and from whiskey to beer, these are ten non-water floods that caused catastrophe to people in ways nobody ever expected to see.

Related: 10 People Who Survived Multiple Disasters and Deadly Situations

10 Beer (1814)

The so-called London Beer Flood took place on October 17, 1814, and remains one of the darkest (and strangest) tragedies in the history of the great city. It started as a terrible accident at Meux & Co’s Horse Shoe Brewery in the city. One of the brewery’s 22-foot-tall (6.7-meter) wooden vats of fermenting porter burst under pressure.

Unfortunately, the liquid that rushed out of that vat then dislodged the valve of at least one other vessel. Worse still, it completely obliterated several more massive barrels of porter. In all, as many as 323,000 imperial gallons—which is up to 1.4 million liters, or nearly 400,000 U.S. gallons—of beer rushed from their holding spots and flooded out from the brewery into the surrounding neighborhood.

The beer’s flood had such energy behind it that it destroyed the back wall of the brewery. Then, it swept through an area of nearby slums known as the St. Giles rookery. As bad luck would have it, a group of people were at a wake at the time that was being held by a poor Irish family for their two-year-old son, who had died. As the fermenting porter swept through the slum, eight people—including five at the wake—were killed. That it happened while they were mourning the loss of a toddler made the situation all the more tragic.

As for the brewery, it was nearly bankrupted by the event. The HM Excise eventually gave them a rebate on the lost beer, though, which helped Meux & Co avoid collapse. One thing did change for the better, we suppose: the brewery stopped using wooden vats after the horrific accident.

To that end, thankfully, they never had another flooding accident like that again. The entire industry actually phased out wooden vats following 1814, so something better did come out of it. The brewery moved locations about a century later. If you’re in London and want to visit the site, the Dominion Theatre now stands where the infamous London Beer Flood of 1814 occurred.[1]

9 Whiskey (1875)

At some point in the evening of June 18, 1875, a flood of whiskey began in the Liberties neighborhood of Dublin, Ireland. By the time it ended hours later, it had claimed the lives of 13 people—but not for the reasons you might think. The whole thing started as a fire in Laurence Malone’s whiskey storehouse on Dublin’s Ardee Street.

There, about 262,000 imperial gallons (nearly 1.2 million liters, or 315,000 U.S. gallons) of whiskey were being stored. To this day, no one knows exactly what caused the fire. All they know is that it wasn’t burning at 4:35 pm when the storehouse was checked, but by 8:30 pm, an alarm had been raised. An hour later, at 9:30 pm, barrels in the storehouse began to explode in the heat of the fire. As they did, a stream of whiskey shot through the warehouse’s doors and flooded furiously out of the burning building.

The stream of molten whiskey rushed down Ardee Street and Cork Street. It demolished a house on Chamber Street, too, then turned further down Mill Street and tore apart an entire line of small row houses. The whiskey stream was more than 6 inches ((15 centimeters) deep the whole time and, at points, often even deeper than that.

People in the houses affected were thankfully alerted by squealing animals that had been in nearby livestock pens that caught fire. So, surprisingly, everybody was able to safely evacuate their homes, and lives were not lost in the fire or the flood due to smoke inhalation or drowning. Thirteen people did die, though, and their causes of death became a darkly unique and infamous Irish story.

See, during the flood, people quickly realized that it was whiskey that was pouring through the streets. So all the way down to the Coombe neighborhood, people grabbed cups and vases and any other vessel they could to drink the free whiskey. The only problem was that the whiskey formerly in the barrels was undiluted.

Unfortunately, many people drank such a great quantity of the stuff that it very negatively affected their bodies. In total, 13 people died from acute alcohol poisoning after downing as much whiskey as they could, and another 24 were hospitalized with serious internal issues. What a way to go, though.[2]

8 Molasses (1919)

The Great Molasses Flood of 1919 took place in the North End neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts. Occurring on Wednesday, January 15, it came about after a storage tank filled with 2.3 million gallons (8.7 million liters) of molasses burst. The ensuing wave of the sticky stuff rushed through the streets of Boston at up to 35 miles per hour (56 km/h). In total, 21 people were killed in the awful wave, and another 150 were injured.

The issue began four years earlier, in 1915. That year, the United States Industrial Alcohol (USIA) Company built a 50-foot-tall (15.2-meter) storage tank in Boston. They were fermenting molasses in it, which was used to help produce industrial alcohol. World War I was raging at the time, and the industrial alcohol product was used in munitions—specifically to make cordite, which was a smokeless gunpowder used in artillery shells.

With the United States in the middle of the war in Europe, they needed all the ammunition they could get. The USIA saw that and took advantage of lucrative war-time government contracts to build their massive tank in a very, very hurried manner. Then, with many able-bodied men out fighting the war, the inspectors who looked over the tank didn’t have the same engineering expertise to notice any deficiencies from the shoddy manufacturer.

The USIA was in such a hurry to produce munitions and make money that it filled the tank with its first shipment of molasses from Cuba even before it could be tested for leaks! The wheels were thus set in motion. Over the next four years, locals in Boston’s North End continually reported hearing the tank groan and creak endlessly under the pressure of its content.

At various times, leaks and seams were so noticeable that Bostonians would regularly come by and collect molasses drippings from the tank walls to use at home. Eventually, the USIA had the tank painted brown to camouflage its hundreds of leaking joints. It didn’t fix the problem or move to make a new tank, though. And in 1919, all that would come to a head in the most terrible way.

On January 12 of that year, a 600,000-gallon (2.27 million-liter) molasses delivery was pumped into the tank from the S.S. Mielero in Boston Harbor. That was nearly the tank’s maximum capacity. The USIA intended to transport the molasses in railroad tank cars over the next week to their distillery in the nearby city of Cambridge.

However, on January 15, before those transfers could take place, the tank ruptured. Its steel walls tore apart, its contents flooded the North End neighborhood around it, and the molasses engulfed absolutely everything in its path. The destruction was so complete that rescuers didn’t find the final deceased victim of the molasses flood until four months later. And for decades afterward, locals swore that on hot days, the entire neighborhood still reeked of molasses.[3]

7 Chocolate and Butter (1919)

On May 12, 1919, a fire started very early in the morning at the Rockwood & Company factory complex in Brooklyn. The complex, which sat on Flushing Avenue, packed and shipped chocolate, butter, and other products. But just after 1:00 am, a night watchman noticed smoke flooding out of the factory. When he ran to the source, he found a fire blazing.

Immediately, he contacted the New York City Fire Department. And within mere minutes, the department was on the scene to try to extinguish the blaze. But what otherwise might have been a normal and difficult fire to put out was made even more bizarre by the contents of the factory during the fire. With both chocolate and butter on hand in huge quantities, the heat from the flames melted each product. It turned the factory floor—and soon, the streets around it—into an utter, molten mess.

As the building slowly came down, despite the NYFD’s best efforts, molten chocolate and melted butter surged out onto the streets of Brooklyn. Worse still, the heat from the fire caused sugar from the chocolate to separate from the molten mixture. That sticky sugar then quickly hardened around the storm grates and drains all the way down the street.

With nowhere to drain the molten contents, the chocolate began to flood down the road uncontrollably. Then, when the molten mixture flooded further away from the building, it cooled and became extremely slippery. That, in turn, made it nearly impossible for firefighters to run up and down the block and save other buildings from the flames.

In the end, the local Brooklyn Daily Eagle newspaper reported that there was “an ocean of fudge… flooding the street… like lava.” The paper’s reporter even claimed the chocolate river was deep enough to “float a rowboat for two blocks along Flushing Avenue.” Hundreds of local children rushed out of their homes and onto the street to see the commotion. Eventually, the NYPD ushered them away from the flood and off to school. But a chocolate river running down the street is every little kid’s biggest dream, right? And in 1919, in Brooklyn, that dream came true![4]

6 Butter (1991)

On May 3, 1991, a fire started at the Central Storage and Warehouse Company in the city of Madison, Wisconsin. That complex was famous for storing more than 15 million pounds (6.8 million kilograms) of government surplus butter and cheese at the time. Weirdly, the building also stored a massive amount of Ocean Spray cranberries, too, as well as millions of hot dogs. It also held other products like baked goods, hams, and more than 1,000 pounds (454 kilograms) of anhydrous ammonia.

However, it was the butter that proved to be the problem on this day. The fire spread across the facility so quickly. It burned so hot that the fire sprinklers were useless from the very beginning. Firefighters had to fight non-stop for nearly 24 hours to even contain the blaze. Then, over the next eight (!) days, they tried valiantly to soak it before finally putting out the flames. Thankfully, no employees or firefighters were killed in the inferno.

The massive fire isn’t really the story, though—it’s the ensuing butter flood that we care about. As the fire burned extremely hot, the butter being stored in tanks inside quickly melted. The tanks ruptured and snapped under the heat, too, and soon enough, there was a molten river of butter flowing through the streets of Madison.

Unlike the molten chocolate that Brooklyn saw in 1919, this one was gooey, gross, and a massive public health hazard. Almost 3,000 Madison residents were forced to flee their homes and move to high ground to avoid the fiery contents of the flood. Firefighters reported the butter flowing “like a river” through the streets as they tried their hardest to beat back the flames.

In the end, the butter flood actually made things even more difficult when it came to fighting the fire. First responders slipped and slid and fell in the sticky, greasy surge. They couldn’t get their footing to fight the flames. And when they did, they found their equipment and hoses were failing regularly under the pressure from the butter flow.

This unlikely river was reported to be two and three feet (nearly 1 meter) high at various points in the surge, with some butter ponds even being found to be upward of 5 feet (1.5 meters) deep. That’s a lot of melted butter! Anybody got about ten thousand biscuits?[5]

5 Coal Ash Slurry (2008)

Just three days before Christmas in 2008, a dike ruptured at a coal ash pond near the city of Kingston, Tennessee. The dike, which had been under the control of the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston Fossil Plant, was holding back a hefty amount of coal ash byproduct that was mixed into a slurry with water.

A coal-fired power plant located across the local Clinch River in the city of Kingston used that pond and others to store fly ash waste, which is a byproduct of coal combustion. But on December 22, the dike of one of the biggest of those coal waste ponds burst, and more than one billion (yes, with a ‘b’) gallons (7.57 billion liters) of coal fly ash slurry flooded into the river and beyond into the town of Kingston.

The disgusting and highly toxic coal ash slurry surged across more than 300 acres (121 hectares) of nearby land. It rushed across the Clinch River, past the Emory River, and damaged dozens of homes on that side of town. Plus, both of those rivers are tributaries to the far bigger Tennessee River, and the coal ash flooded uncontrollably into that waterway soon enough.

By the end of it all, millions of dollars of property was damaged, with dozens of homes and other properties being deemed uninhabitable. Worse still, the cleanup cost the TVA more than $1 billion—and quickly became the largest and most far-reaching industrial spill in the history of the United States. Thankfully, nobody was killed directly by the coal ash flood. However, several employees of the engineering firm that was hired by the TVA to clean up the spill very soon developed incidents of brain cancer, leukemia, lung cancer, and other inexplicable illnesses.

By the tenth anniversary of the spill, in December 2018, more than 30 employees of that engineering firm had died prematurely of what should have been relatively rare illnesses. Other employees brought lawsuits against the TVA and its contractor. In May 2023, they reached a settlement over having not been properly informed about the dangers of being exposed to coal ash.[6]

4 Bauxite (2010)

There is an industrial occurrence known as the Bayer process in which mineral bauxite is refined into a form of aluminum oxide called “alumina.” The waste product from that refinement is a red mud-like substance. It contains all the non-aluminum products and compounds that are left in the mixture of bauxite ore after the aluminum oxide is refined and pulled out.

Specifically, iron oxide is what gives this “mud” its reddish color. Typically, this highly alkaline mud is stored in large open-air ponds. And as you might expect, the stuff is strong and potentially harmful to the environment—especially when it’s left to sit in massive quantities and given the opportunity to flood across a large, unsuspecting area.

On October 4, 2010, at the Ajkai Timföldgyár alumina plant in Ajka, a small town in western Hungary, a massive dam holding back a large pond of this red bauxite mud ruptured. The rupture caused about 35 million cubic feet (one million cubic meters) of liquid waste to be released from these red mud lakes. As it surged out of the broken dam, the mud crested in waves as high as seven feet tall. It flooded several nearby municipalities, including the tiny village of Kolontár and the slightly larger town of Devecser.

Investigators didn’t initially know how the mud flood occurred. It came several months after what had been a remarkably rainy summer in Hungary, and some thought that the dam had given way due to heavy rains and the residual effects of those storms on the soil and ground below.

Regardless, the mud reached the mighty Danube River a couple days after the flood first occurred, and Hungary’s major industrial problem suddenly became that of many other linked countries in Europe. In total, ten people were killed in the red mud flood. Plus, another 150 people were injured by the after-effects of it destroying buildings, homes, and other structures as it engulfed whole villages.[7]

3 Mining Waste (2015)

On November 5, 2015, mining waste known as tailings erupted over a dam at the Benito Rodrigues mine within the massive Samarco Mariana Mining Complex in the city of Mariana, Minas Gerais, Brazil. The dam suffered a catastrophic failure after being filled to the brink with mining tailings. In turn, the resulting flood of mining waste mixed with water surged downstream to the villages of Benito Rodrigues and Paracatu de Baixo.

All told, 19 people were killed in the disgusting and toxic flood, which released more than 1,543 million cubic feet (43.7 million cubic meters) of mine tailings directly into the Doce River. The river quickly turned into a toxic brown sludge, leaped over its banks, and overwhelmed the two villages and all of their residents.

The sheer size of the destruction was so massive that it’s actually amazing that only 19 people were killed. When all was said and done, mining pollutants spread across more than 415 miles (668 kilometers) of various waterways carrying out from the Doce River. Downstream, a humanitarian crisis quickly erupted after other cities and villages were left without clean water when their supplies ended and the Doce’s disgusting brown sludge surged through.

Samarco, which owned the mine, was eventually subject to extensive litigation over the tragedy. In 2016, charges of manslaughter and environmental damage were brought against 21 of their executives. Those charges were then made worse when the public learned of a previously secret 2013 report that stated that the dam had known structural issues in the years before its collapse.[8]

2 Fruit Juice (2017)

On April 25, 2017, the Russian city of Lebedyan experienced one of the strangest floods in the history of, well, anything. There is a PepsiCo bottling factory in that town, and on that morning, the roof of its warehouse unexpectedly collapsed. At the time, the warehouse was home to tons and tons of fruit juices. Thankfully, the roof collapse didn’t cause any deaths, and only two workers sustained minor injuries.

However, the collapse did rupture various vats, tanks, and barrels holding the fruit juice. And all of a sudden, a surge of more than 28 million liters—or about 7.5 million U.S. gallons—of fruit juice rushed out from the factory, swept across Lebedyan, and carried into the nearby Don River.

Initially, locals were very worried about the possible environmental effects of a massive spill like that. Red-colored fruit juice could be seen surging through the streets and rushing into the local river. Environmental experts descended, and thankfully, they found that the effects of the flood on the local flora and fauna were expected to be minimal. (Better that it’s fruit juice than bauxite residue or mining tailings, we suppose.)

PepsiCo publicly apologized for the incident and offered to pay for all the damage caused. And nobody was killed in the flood, either. So, this story has a happy ending, and forever after, the citizens of Lebedyan can recall the day they had an unexpected fruit juice river running right through the center of town![9]

1 Red Wine (2023)

Levira Distillery is a very famous distillery and wine-making company that was first founded in the town of São Lourenço do Bairro in Anadia, Portugal, way back in 1923. The town loves the distillery and the products they make. And the world loves the wine the place produces, too. But on September 10, 2023, the distillery had an unforeseen problem that resulted in hundreds of thousands of gallons of wine flooding out of its tanks and rushing all across the town after a “structural failure” at the plant.

So, this story starts several years earlier amid the COVID-19 pandemic. At that time, Levira smartly partnered with a company named Super Bock to produce thousands of liters of hand sanitizer. Levira used the alcohol they had on hand from beer to make all the hand sanitizer. Then, with sanitizer filling many of their storage tanks, the distillery began amassing a large quantity of wine in separate tanks amid a major European wine surplus.

Over the next two years, inflation hit hard, and food prices skyrocketed. In turn, consumers began to drink less wine, and Levira stopped exporting wine at the same degree to which it had been previously sending it out. Those factors—and a very productive grape harvest in 2022, to make matters even more dire—led to massively increased storage of wine just sitting and waiting to be sent out to market.

On the morning of September 10, a so-called structural failure in one completely full tank of wine caused the thing to rupture. The rupture was so violent that the spilling wine knocked over a second massive tank, too. In mere moments, about 585,000 gallons (more than 2.2 million liters) of wine began to flow down the Rua de Cima road in São Lourenço do Bairro.

Over the next 24 hours, the road was completely flooded with red wine, and the basements of local homes were totally submerged. Thankfully, nobody was injured in the wine spill, and there were no deaths or other major problems. But social media videos went viral, and all over the world, people marveled at the sight of high-quality red wine literally flooding the streets of the tiny town.[10]

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